My first pregnancy was a breeze. No morning sickness, average amount of weight gain, plenty of energy and glowing skin. My girlfriends hated me, I’m sure.
The truth is, I loved being pregnant. Everything about it felt good. Too good in fact, because after my son was born, my mental state rapidly plummeted from near-euphoria to severe depression in a matter of days. I never saw it coming.
But I’m not here to go into detail about my bout with postpartum depression. I’ll save that for another post. I’m here to discuss how my experience completely changed the way I managed my second pregnancy and led me to profess without hesitation that, yes, I took antidepressants when I was pregnant, and thank God that I did.
Well before I ever got pregnant, I took antidepressants to treat mild depression and anxiety. I was no stranger to these drugs and believed they were vital to my emotional well-being. However, when I got pregnant for the very first time, I stopped taking them. I honestly can’t recall whether this was done under doctor’s orders or if I just made the decision myself. Either way, I was on a pretty low dose, so I didn’t experience any adverse side effects from stopping so suddenly. To this day, I’m also convinced that whatever hormones were coursing through my body at the time were keeping my mood up.
My path to mental wellness
Based on my mental health history, I recognized the signs of depression right away and sought treatment. My OB/GYN referred me to a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) who specialized in counseling pregnant and postpartum women. Bi-weekly therapy sessions slowly began to help lift the dark clouds that hung over me, but it wasn’t enough.
In the back of my mind, I was thinking, “Maybe I need medication?” I was too afraid to ask because I was still nursing and just assumed it wasn’t safe. I didn’t have to ask. My therapist knew I needed more help, and referred me to a psychopharmacologist who also specializes in treating pregnant and postpartum moms.
A psychopharmacologist is psychiatrist who specializes in “the study of the use of medications in treating mental disorders.” Up until this point in my life, psychopharmacology was not a part of my lexicon. Now, I’m a huge advocate of what these specially-trained psychiatrists do. Mine literally saved my life.
I’m fully aware that by now, some of you may be judging me or quietly shaming me under your breath for promoting the use of antidepressants — especially for women who are pregnant or nursing. I realize that many people don’t believe in them, and I get that. I’m not a doctor. I cannot tell anyone what treatment would work best for them. I can only share my personal story in the hopes that any of you out there who have ever pondered the question before and were too afraid or ashamed to ask like I was can be assured that yes, it is indeed OK to take antidepressants while pregnant. In fact, can even be highly recommended.
Read more: What stress means for your pregnancy
The first time I sat down with my new psychiatrist/psychopharmacologist, he gave me the full run-down on the latest research surrounding the effects of antidepressants on nursing mothers and their babies. He laid out the risks and benefits and immediately put my mind at ease.
What I learned over the course of a few weeks is that benefits of someone with severe postpartum depression taking these medications far outweigh any perceived risk. And those risks, in fact, are nominal.
My Pregnancy Treatment Plan
I was put on a treatment plan to address my specific needs, which included a low-dose SSRI, continuing psychotherapy sessions with my LCSW and regular visits with my psychiatrist to assess whether or not I or my baby was having any side effects to the medication. He would also evaluate my mental state to see if I need to increase or decrease my dose or change medications altogether. It was so reassuring to know that I was under the care of someone who is well-studied in the latest research and who had a deep, genuine concern for my mental health and the healthy development of my newborn.
When I decided to try for baby number two, we discussed my options and decided that the safest thing to do was stay on my current regimen during my pregnancy. Based on my history of anxiety and postpartum depression, my doctor felt that keeping me medicated would protect me from slipping into the depths of despair again. As he explained, taking me off my medication suddenly would pose a great risk to my mental health.
Experts at the Mayo Clinic concur, “If you stop taking antidepressants during pregnancy, you risk a depression relapse.”
So, what exactly are the risks of taking antidepressants during pregnancy? If you Google it, you’ll probably find lots of conflicting information, including anything from birth defects to having a baby who cries more than usual during the first few days of life. If you think you might be a candidate for this and you’re on the fence about it, I highly recommend you see a Psychopharmacologist who can help you make the best decision for you and your baby. Luckily, there are plenty of resources online to help you find professionals in your area, including the ASCPP’s website.
Of course, it’s always a good idea to talk to your OB/GYN about depression. If she’s not well-versed in the area, she can certainly refer you to someone who is. There is plenty of help out there if you just keep your eyes, and mind, open.
TapGenes Takeaway: The concerns and fears you might have about taking antidepressants while pregnant could be eased by talking to a medical professional. This is one woman’s story of taking control of her mental health while pregnant.
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